A note and some news from Philly transplant Michelle H:
While spending the holidays in my hometown of Seattle, I could not resist checking philly.com in order to stay on top of the news in my home away from home. It was on philly.com that I heard about the fire at the Global Leadership Academy on Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia. Having passed the school numerous times on the 10 trolley, I knew exactly where it was. Given its proximity to the former St. Gregory Roman Catholic Church, I had always assumed that the building was formerly the parish school. It was still a bit of a shock to see the burnt building with my own eyes when I rode the 10 trolley for the first time in 2011 on this slushy of Tuesday, January 18th. With the sign for the charter school no longer in place, the school’s former name was plainly in view: ST. GREGORY’S PARISH SCHOOL.
I had been contemplating taking photos in order to send them to the Church Project, but was not sure when I’d actually do it. As fate would have it, the trolley operator ordered off all of the passengers (for some reason) about a block away from the school. (That's the second or third time that's happened to a bus or trolley I was riding since I moved to Philly in August.) I took the chance to take some photos before catching the next trolley.
The area where the school and church are located is called Cathedral Park. When one takes Lancaster through Cathedral Park and the nearby neighborhoods of Mill Creek, Belmont, and Mantua (although to a lesser extent because Mantua is gentrifying), there is a great deal of blight and the area certainly appears to be ghetto or ghetto-like. Nonetheless, I have walked on portions of Lancaster Avenue in these areas many times during the day in order to catch the bus or trolley and have neither experienced any problems nor seen anything dangerous. My point is that for any readers who have any connection to the school and want to see it, they should not be afraid to do so. Of course, watch your back and be aware of your surroundings, but you need not be afraid of being killed. I saw a truck on the property on Wednesday and, although I have no evidence to confirm this, my gut instinct is that the City may tear down the building in the near future.
On a final note, when one travels on Lancaster Avenue from Overbrook toward Center City, one will pass the former St. Gregory (currently in use by another denomination), then Our Lady of Angels, and finally, Our Mother of Sorrows. None are technically on Lancaster, but they are all clearly in view. Additionally, all three are within close proximity to each other. Perhaps it could be another church alley? It is sad to see the school in its burnt state, especially in a neighborhood that already has a lot of blight. Nonetheless, the exterior of the former St. Gregory Church is gorgeous and appears to be in good condition.
For your reference, her excellent pictures of the damage appear at the end of this post. What I see is not pretty, and I'd be very surprised if the building isn't torn down. An inglorious end for the former St. Gregory school. And sad news for the Global Leadership Academy, but the Philadelphia School District has offered them temporary accommodations, and they were already planning to move to a new building for the 2011-2012 school year.
The Project, too, has passed the former St. Gregory a couple of times via train, and the exterior is indeed still impressive. The interior? Well, we won't know until we go. There's a reason the St. Cyprian Effect exists.
P.S. Picture 4 is our favorite. Sad, creepy and poignant.